Alfred University News

Alumnus Don McPherson speaks at event celebrating EnChroma glasses loan program at Smithsonian American Art Museum

Alfred University alumnus Don McPherson ’84 M.S., ’88 PhD, spoke recently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, delivering opening remarks at an event to celebrate the museum’s launch of a program to loan EnChroma glasses to color blind visitors.

McPherson, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees in glass science from Alfred University, is co-founder and chief science officer of EnChroma, a San Francisco-area maker of eyeglasses that enable the color blind to see an expanded range of clear, vibrant color.

At the Oct. 19 launch event at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, six local red-green color blind people tried out the glasses invented by McPherson, and experienced the colors of the Smithsonian’s iconic artwork for the very first time. While people with normal color vision see over one million shades and hues, those with red-green Color Vision Deficiency (CVD, “color blindness”), only see 10 percent of colors. An estimated 350 million people worldwide are color blind: one in 12 men and one in 200 women, and 13 million in the United States alone. Last year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum welcomed 1.1 million visitors, an estimated 47,000 of whom were color blind.

Normal-ColorBlind versions of painting

Normal color vision view of “Scenes of American Life (Beach)” by Gertrude Goodrich at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (left). Color blind view is shown at the right

“Color is an afterthought for most of us but plays an under-appreciated role in conveying information. Artists have long been aware that color conveys emotion and helps tell their story. Red-green color-blind people often can’t interpret or truly experience what the artist intended because they only see 10 percent of colors,” McPherson said in his remarks at the museum.

"In addition to a doctorate in glass science, I have degrees in math and art, which probably explains my deep love and appreciation for artistic expression. Therefore, it’s an incredible honor to be here to witness these color vision deficient people experience the colors in artwork at one of the world’s most renowned museums, fittingly something I have long associated with the Smithsonian.”

While at the museum, McPherson was interviewed by news stations from CBS and ABC. The event kicked off the Smithsonian permanently loaning EnChroma glasses for visitors to borrow, continuing a growing trend championed by EnChroma to improve ‘color accessibility’ and inclusion at workplaces, universities, parks, libraries, schools and cultural institutions through its Color Accessibility Program™. The program has helped over 400 organizations purchase EnChroma glasses to loan to color blind students and guests.

Over 200 public libraries, and 100 museums participate, such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Corning Museum of Glass, Centre Pompidou, the Van Gogh Museum, US Botanic Garden and the National Gallery of Art. The 15 participating universities loaning the glasses to color blind students and faculty include Alfred University (the first), Boston University, the University of North Carolina, Mississippi State University, the University of Hamburg, Germany, University College of Cork, Ireland, and others.

During his visit to Washington, McPherson also met with leadership at The Kennedy Center’s Office of Accessibility and VSA, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, to educate them about color blindness and address their interest in enhancing guest accessibility at their institutions. He also met with the United States Army to discuss a potential collaboration between the Army and EnChroma.

EnChroma has donated several pairs of glasses for color blindness to Alfred University’s Herrick and Scholes libraries, which loans them to the campus and local communities. Four pairs of glasses donated by EnChroma were given away in drawings held during Alfred University’s Homecoming/Family Weekend in October.